WORD OF GOD SPEAK — FROM DEATH TO LIFE
by Pastor Mike Fortune
December 1, 2007
- People far from God are precious to Him
- People close to God are precious to Him
- Believing both is a risk worth the reward
There are three places judgement occurs in the Bible. They are in or through the church. At the cross. And during the end time. Some Christians [I used to be one of them] only ever focus on the end time. Some Christians only ever focus on the cross. And some people only ever focus on the church. Specifically those inside it instead of the Gospel being lived and preached through it. In today’s passage, Jesus refers to them all. So let’s get to it. How many of you have your Bibles here with you today? Praise the Lord! That’s how God speaks to us these days. Just like the 2 nd century Christians for whom John was writing his Gospel. If you don’t have a Bible at home, there should be one the pew in front of you. So let’s get them open and turn to John chapter 5 and dig in. Today, we’ll be zeroing in on what Jesus said in verses 16-30 which, significantly, occurs right after He healed a guy on the Sabbath who had been paralyzed for 38 years. That’s the context.
“16So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath [such as healing chronically ill people on the Sabbath], the Jews persecuted him. 17Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’ 18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.. 19Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 21For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. ‘24I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. 28Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. 30By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.’”
Let’s start with the church. Surprise, surprise, judgement occurs in and through the church. What did verse 16 say? “16So, because Jesus was doing these things [such as healing a chronically ill person on the Sabbath], the Jews persecuted him.” And the Jews were the people in His church. They didn’t understand why Jesus went out of his way to heal someone far from God on Sabbath. But a lack of clarity within the church didn’t prevent Jesus from healing him anyway. Jesus basically said, “Sorry, but I gotta keep working.” Look at verse 17. “17My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’”
Which had to blow their minds. We don’t realize how controversial these words were because we don’t know how rejected and lonely and far from God this guy was. People back then thought people who were paralyzed were paying for their sins. That they were far from God because they deserved to be. But that’s not how God looks at it. If it were, none of us would get near God either because Romans 3 says none of us deserve it. But when God sees people, especially broken, hurting, rejected people obviously far from God and the church, He keeps reaching. Knowing when He does so it will be controversial. Knowing it will not be understood by everyone in church. At least not right away. But Jesus heals him anyway. Which leads me to point number one this week. People far from God are precious to God.
If we really love mankind and want to obey God like Jesus did, we will never stop scheming and praying and planning to reach people far from God. Especially the broken. Hurting. And rejected. Why? Because people far from God are precious to God. And what He wants is for them to come a little closer. So we can love on them. And you know you’re doing both right when how you do it messes with your church. And the people inside of it.
Verse 18 says, “18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” Now, if you were to ask a random person on the street what they think of the church, not just our church but any church, what do you think they’d say? Do you think they’d say it’s a safe place that loves God and the people far from God like crazy? Do you think they’d say it’s a place where Bibles are brought and the presence of God is experienced? Do you think they’d say it’s a place where alcoholics and prostitutes and liars sit side by side doctors and lawyers and nurses worshiping the same King of the Universe? Or do you think they’d say church is a place of judgement?
I’m not answering the question, I’m just raising it. Because it seems to me, if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s too often the case in many places. And if it makes you feel any better, it’s been that way for quite a while. Listen to what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:17 [NIV]. “17In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.” Ouch right? Who knew? Sometimes, the way we do church can do more harm than good. Why? Because whatever they were doing during communion in that case, it was not making it easier for people far from God to come a little closer. That paralytic guy in Jesus’ day had been ignored by the church for 38 years! Which in the Bible, is nearly equivalent to an entire generation.
So don’t you think every once in a while, we should ask ourselves: How are we doing at giving away our church to the emerging generations? Are we planning and scheming and praying for ways to do that? Or are there generations we’re ignoring here today?
Do you know the median age of an American is 36 years old? That means half of America is older than 36 and half is younger. I’m 34. So I’m nearly the median age of an American. But did you know that the median age of an Adventist Christian in North America is 58 years old? And it’s actually higher than that if you take out the immigrants and anyone else not whiter than me.
Could it be there are people out there that are far from God that have been ignored for many years just like that paralytic? And if that’s the case, what are we going to do about that? Are we seriously going to just ignore them? Pretending that everything is okay? Or are we all going to work together to do all we can to make it easier for people far from God to come a little closer? That’s what the early church in Acts 15:19 decided to do. And that’s what I think we should do too.
If we really believe that people far from God are precious to God, I think it should mess with our church and those of us in it. It should haunt us at night. It should be what wakes us in the morning. It should break our hearts. Because according to Jesus, it’s breaking God’s. And judging by many of the “truth in love feedback cards” I’ve received so far, I can tell it’s already breaking yours.
Which is why I was so glad to read the positive and encouraging words you shared with your pastoral team these past few weeks. We did a year in review at the last business meeting soliciting your feedback at potluck as well. Some of you added extra emails and signed notes and smiley faces. Thank you for all of those. You had wonderful things to say about ordinary outreach and the lifestyle of evangelism we’re trying to create. About our awesome church school with a waiting list and half its students coming from the community. About our growing daycare with a staff that loves Jesus. I just want to publicly say thank you to each of you for taking that feedback so seriously and honestly sharing what you like. And, in some cases, even some of the things you don’t like. Or perhaps don’t understand as well. One of the things you said I could do a better job explaining is why we’re experimenting with our worship service. Which I’ll try to do during our next business meeting coming up December 3 rd so I hope you guys can make it to that. If you can’t, here’s the cliff notes.
We’re not tinkering with worship to make you mad. Or feel unimportant. Or because we have huge egos that we think we’re God and know all we need to. We’ll be the first to admit that we don’t! That’s why your input was and will continue to be so significant to us! But what we do know is the Father and Jesus are always at work. Even on the Sabbath. Praying and planning and scheming for ways to bring those far from God a little closer. So we should be too.
That’s why we’re experimenting with worship. Leaving it very respectful and organized, just a little less formal. Using a variety of instruments including the piano and organ, but fewer people using them making it easier to plan. Singing familiar hymns and songs, but sometimes in a different arrangement. All practiced and planned to connect best with the sermon and everything else happening in worship that day. If you want more details, but can’t come to our next business meeting on Monday night, maybe you could call the church office to set up a home visit. I’d love to come listen to you in person. Especially during these next few winter months.
Yes, churches can be places of judgement where feelings are hurt and motivations are misunderstood and people far from God come no closer. But you know what? Churches can also be places where truth is spoken in love, where trust grows, and people far from God come closer and closer. Until they step sopping wet out of the baptistry and straight into a Care Group that teaches them to feed themselves through deep Bible reading and sharing and meaningful prayer. PRS. Pray. Read. Share. This is how you become Christian and this is how you stay Christian. Anyone telling you anything else is selling you something. And this, it seems to me, is how Jesus lived His life every day. That’s why Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:18-21 that when the Gospel is preached and lived and people far from God come a little closer and believe—they are not condemned. Which is just another English word for judged in Greek. When they come close and believe, they are no longer judged. By God at least. They are no longer condemned. Same thing in Romans 8:1 and John 5:22 and 24 and 29. Which we’ll get to, but before we do, let’s look at verses 19-21 to see the 2 nd place judgement occurs in the Bible.
John 5:19-21 says, “19Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 21For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.”
So the first area judgement occurs is in or through the church. When the Gospel is lived and preached. But the second place the Bible says judgement occurred was at the cross. John 3:16 and 18 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave...And He gave where? At the cross...so whoever believes in him is not condemned, is not judged [krisis in Greek], because he has believed.” Foreshadowing the cross, Jesus adds these words in John 12:31-32 which say, “31Now is the time for judgment on this world [krino in Greek; a form of the same word in John 5] now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
So what’s the point? The point is God loves people far from God. Going out of His way to bring them closer. And point number two, He loves people close to God too. Going out of His way to keep them close. How? By reminding them if you’re in Christ, you don’t have to live your life in crisis. Constantly wondering if you’ve done enough to be saved. Because Christianity is not about what you do, but who you know!
That’s why jokingly, I told all the people Donna whupped on at Ladder Ball this past Summer of Service in the park not to worry they lost because there is no condemnation for those in Christ. Well, I wanted to make them feel better. Okay, I wanted to make myself feel better. Just joking. Donna didn’t beat me at Ladder Ball. By much anyway. So I said that to encourage me. But I also said that because it is theologically correct! Jesus was saying the same thing in John 3 and 5 and 12 as Paul was saying in Romans 8:3. That on the cross, Christ “Condemned sin in sinful man.” Which is the same word as judged. That’s why verse 1 of Romans 8 says “Now therefore, there is now no condemnation [no krisis] for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Which means even when we lose, even when we fall short of the glory of God, we win! Because in the end, God wins! Just like He did on the cross.
So whatever else the Bible has to say about judgement at the end time, it has to be consistent with what the Gospel and the Cross reveal about judgement. Why? Because the Bible writers use the words for judgement and condemnation [and the forms of them] interchangeably for all three places judgement is described in Scripture. Including the end time. Which is where Jesus goes next.
John 5:22-24. “22Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. 24I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
We’ve got to stop there. Isn’t that a powerful verse? Whoever comes near to hear and believe has eternal life. Present tense. Then, Jesus adds these staggering words. “They will not be condemned.” Which is another form of the word judged. Krisis in Greek. You have crossed over from death to life. Point number one. People far from God are precious to God. Point number two: People near to God are precious to God too. Why? Because they’ve already passed over from death to everlasting life! They are in the Son. They have eternal life now.
Moving on, verses 25-29, “25I tell you the truth [Jesus says], a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. 28Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
We don’t have time to go into all that end time stuff Jesus is referring to here. But what I hear Jesus saying through this end time resurrection language is point number three: the risk is worth the reward. Believing that people far and near to God are precious to God is a risk because going out of our way to love on them confuses the church and messes up our lives in a good way. But so do babies and people keep having them right? Why? Because the risk is worth the reward! And it’s the same way with Jesus.
Because what Jesus has in store for those that love Him isn’t some cheap parting gift on The Price Is Right if you don’t win the Showcase Showdown. No! Because the showdown has already been won! What God has in store for those in the end time is even more of the same love. Joy. And peace. Yes, patience will still be required. Especially of the saints. As Revelation reveals. But kindness. Gentleness. Self control. And all the fruits of the Spirit and spiritual gifts you have now we’ll also have then. In the end time. And after that, we’ll get even more. That’s the actual context to that quote we use to talk about heaven. Remember that one in 1 Corinthians 2:9? It says, “No eye has seen nor ear heard the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Yes, that’s true of heaven. But it’s also true of everything we experience with Jesus before then. Even during the end time judgement. Which John 12:48 describes this way: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” Yes, John says there is an end time judgement for those who reject Jesus. But one for those who don’t reject Jesus is not necessary because they have already passed from death to life! All the end time judgement does for them is validate in heaven the decisions they’ve already made on earth—as Jesus guaranteed in Matthew 18:18. Which interestingly, is one way to define the Hebrew word cleansed in Daniel 8. It can simply mean “to validate.”
But for those who don’t reject Jesus, the prizes are awarded now. And last forever. And I think that’s what Jesus is telling us through the words of John today. Number one: People far from God are precious to God. Which is why He goes out of his way to draw them close. Number two: People close to God are precious to God too. Which is why He goes out of his way to keep them close and not in krisis. And number three: believing both of those is a risk because it confuses the church and messes with the your life and your wife and your church and your children and everything else in a good way. But the risk is so worth the reward. Which is a joyful meaningful life worth living with Jesus now and throughout all eternity. This is what Jesus was talking about. This is what he offered that paralytic. And this is what He is offering to you again today. Let’s think about that while Pastor Nathan leads us in one more song.
Our Father in Heaven, thank you for drawing us close to you. For going out of your way to love us. And meet us. And save us. Now, would you please help us go out of our way too? Would you give us the wisdom that we lack? The strength that we need? The courage that is required? Would you open our eyes so we can see the people that are precious to you? Wherever they are? Near or far? Would you bless a congregation that is trying to figure it all out? Even if we occasionally stumble and make mistakes? Read our hearts Lord. We want to please You. By ourselves we can do nothing. But with you we believe, all things are possible. Thank you that we don’t have to live our lives in crisis. Thank you for the assurance and joy that is ours in knowing Jesus. Because it’s in His name that we pray, Amen.